Friday, July 31, 2009

Rockies Ownership Shows Commitment To Winning With Moves

Go back one year ago. The Rockies were living in a fantasy world thinking that they were still in the National League West race. They knew that the odds of signing upcoming free agent Brian Fuentes was slim to none and Matt Holliday, who had rejected several of the teams offers for a long-term deal, was in high demand. Not with the Rockies cheapskate owners, as so many fans like to call them.

Instead of dealing Holliday and Fuentes, the Rockies kept them, knowing that they would receive compensation picks for Fuentes when he signed somewhere else, and that they would still be able to get a good deal for Holliday either in the offseason or before the 2009 deadline.

After the disappointing 2008 season was finally over, many fans were calling for Dick and Charlie Monfort, the Rockies owners, to step up and give both Fuentes and Holliday what they were asking for.

Fans were quickly disappointed when Holliday was moved less than two weeks after the World Series to the Oakland A's for a package that included two minor leaguers and a former closer who had been replaced by a rookie.

If that disappointment was not enough, after searching high and low for a team that would give him the money that he felt he deserved, Fuentes settled for a deal with the Angels worth just slightly more than what the Rockies were trying to sign him for.

The remaining bandwagon fans from the 2007 run jumped off for the last time. This was now a team that was destined to lose 100 games and finish dead last in the N.L. West. It was a team that had a washed up first baseman, a right fielder who could not hit lefties, a shortstop who was a one year wonder and a pitching staff that's ace had won only four games the previous season and was injured for the majority of the year.

The worst part, for those fans, was that the front office was filled with a bunch of money-hungry cowards who could care less if the team won or lost on a nightly basis.

It must have been tough for the Monforts and Dan O'Dowd to read the paper everyday and see their names get dragged through the mud. If the truth were known, their patience had to have worn thin with fans that consistently questioned their every move.

Despite the desperate calls for them to sell the team, the Monforts pressed on. They trusted their plan and believed that it was the way to bring a consistent winner to Coors Field.

At the trade deadline in 2009, the Monforts have proven that they are right.

One week ago the Rockies unloaded a single-A reliever for Rafael Betancourt, a reliever who has been dominant for much of his career. It was exciting for Rockies fans, but no one felt like that move alone would be enough to push the team into the playoffs, especially considering the fact that bringing in one reliever to the bullpen was like putting scotch tape over the hole in the Titanic.

Everything suggested that the Rockies were done making moves and would do their best to contend with the talent that was on board. Betancourt had been a good addition, and the "cheapskate" owners had appeased the masses by bringing on a little more salary with that trade.

While the suggestions and the reputation said that the Rockies were done, news came across that they were still looking for a lefty reliever, someone who could come in during a tough situation so that Franklin Morales would not be thrown into too many situations that he is not ready for.

As the deadline approached, the Rockies seemed less and less likely to make a last minute move. However, in the last few minutes to make a deal, the club announced that it had made its move and acquired lefty specialist Joe Beimel from the Washington Nationals. He is exactly what the club was looking for, he never gives up home runs and is extremely tough on even the best lefties.

The fear then set in for fans because the team had not mentioned who they had traded. Most thought that for the Nat's to part with Beimel it was going to take future second baseman Eric Young Jr. Young is someone who the fans have not wanted to see get shipped off, and the front office had been reluctant to discuss.

Then news came that the deal only involved prospects Ryan Mattheus, a Triple-A reliever coming off arm surgery and Class-A pitcher Robinson Fabian.

What the move shows is that these owners are doing everything in their power to help this club win now. Contrary to opinion, they are not simply throwing a mediocre team on the field and hoping for the best. They are looking for ways to maximize a team that has been built through keen observation and hard work. They are taking on more salary, close to half a million dollars with Beimel alone after incentives kick in, and are working hard to find the right pieces to the puzzle without selling off the future.

The Monforts are defying public criticism and showing their loyal fan base that they want to win, and win now.

While the ride has been bumpy, and by no means are the Rockies going to be handed a playoff spot by picking up Betancourt and Beimel, but it proves that the front office is doing everything in their power to get this team into contention and bring a winning squad to the fans in Colorado.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Jorge De La Rosa Helps The Rockies Avoid A Sweep In New York

In what could easily have turned into a complete nightmare of a series, Jorge De La Rosa put a positive spin on an otherwise terrible experience in New York.

After losing three games in a row for just the second time in the Jim Tracy era, being shut out in two straight games, De La Rosa put his foot down against the Mets. Following Jason Hammel's 1-1/3 inning performance earlier in the day, the hard throwing lefty showed the team the kind of talent that he has. He went 6-1/3 innings, giving up just two runs on three hits. He struck out five while walking three.

The first inning did not look good for the Rockies as the Mets had runners on first and third with no one out. Where earlier in the season a situation like that would most likely result in disaster for De La Rosa, he bared down and got out of the inning unscathed.

While the Rockies offense had gone 27 straight innings without scoring a run, De La Rosa decided to get the offense going all by himself. In the sixth inning with the score tied 1-1, De La Rosa came up to lead off the seventh. Hovering around .100 it seemed as if the first out of the inning was a freebie for the Mets. Instead, De La Rosa rapped a ball over centerfielder Angel Pagan's head for a double. After a quick out, struggling second baseman Clint Barmes stepped to the plate. Two nights prior, Barmes stepped to the plate with the bases loaded twice and failed to get the job done.

Thursday was different for Barmes, however, as he roped a ball high and deep to left field for a two-run home run. It ended up being the difference in the game for the Rockies, who went on to win 4-2 after Huston Street nailed down his 26th save of the season.

Instead of the Rockies heading into Cincinnati with their tails between their legs, the team heads off knowing that they are still in the thick of the wild card race and their rotation has four extremely solid starters to carry the majority of the workload.

The emergence of De La Rosa cannot be ignored. In danger of losing his spot on the roster in May, the lefty from Mexico has turned around his season. With the win on Thursday night De La Rosa broke a team record with seven consecutive wins. His record is now 9-7.

Beyond the record, the key for the Rockies and De La Rosa has been his complete turnaround in the confidence department. In May De La Rosa made a start in Atlanta that typified the career for De La Rosa. He gave up a couple of quick hits in the third inning on bloopers, did not get the corners called for him, and then got blown up. After the first two hits, it was written all over De La Rosa's face, he had zero confidence. The thought of gritting his teeth and getting the next out was nowhere near the lefties mind.

On Thursday when in a jam De La Rosa looked for ways to get quick outs and minimize the damage. He found ways to get the Mets to hit the ball softly and get outs.

While the talent has never been in question, De La Rosa's confidence was what was keeping him from being a contributing factor on a Major League roster. He never could turn the corner, creating doubt that he would ever maximize that potential.

It seems as if that corner has been turned, which could be perfect timing for the Rockies in this Wild Card race.

Despite losing the first three games of the road trip, the Rockies can still have a good road trip. They are a better team than the struggling Reds and should do some damage at their ballpark before getting a chance at revenge against the World Champion Phillies who took two of three from the Rockies at Coors Field to begin the season.

As far as the first game of the day, enough cannot be said about the performance of long-reliever Josh Fogg. When Hammel struggled he came in and got 12 outs, giving up only one run. He worked quick and began to get the game moving at a swift pace.

If Fogg would have struggled, it could have easily spelled a long day for the Rockies bullpen with two games on the docket.

The Rockies head to Cincinnati for a three game set with the Reds. The first game is at 5:05 Mountain Time with Cincinnati native Aaron Cook on the mound for the Rockies.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Rockies Rained Out In New York; Hirsh Traded

The Rockies were given a day off on Wednesday as the rain poured down on Citi Field in New York. The game will be made up as part of a day-night double header on Thursday. The first game will be played s scheduled at 10:10 AM Mountain Time and the second game will be played at 5:10 PM Mountain Time. The second game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain.

It gives the Rockies a chance to catch their breath after two very poor performances in the first two games of the series.

The double header will not be easy for the Rockies as they have to face Mets ace Johan Santana in game one.

In other Rockies news, Jason Hirsh, part of the Jason Jennings trade with Houston, was dealt to the Yankees for a player to be named.

Hirsh had a good showing in 2007 before getting hit by a line drive and breaking his leg. It kept him out for the remainder of the season. In 2008, he started the year on the disabled list with a tear in his labrum. He pitched in only one Major League game on the season.

The 2009 season started with Hirsh once again in Triple-A Colorado Springs. His velocity was way down and he was getting hit hard. Recently the team put him in the bullpen, hoping that it would solve some of his issues, instead he continued to struggle, leading to his trade.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Rockies Drop Another Game In New York, Look Flat

If Major League Baseball decided not to schedule the Rockies in New York again, there would be no complaints from Colorado.

After Tuesday night's 4-0 lackluster loss, the Rockies have now lost 20 of their previous 22 games in New York against the Mets.

On Tuesday it looked as if the Rockies from April and May had teleported themselves to Citi Field. When they struggled early in the season, the look on the faces of the players in the dugout was one of going through the motions, looking forward to the next night. That was exactly the way the Rockies played on Tuesday.

While starting pitcher Jason Marquis was not on top of his game, he pitched well enough to give the Rockies a chance to win. He went six innings giving up three runs, only two of which were earned, on seven hits. He struck out three and walked one.

Whether Marquis performed or not was irrelevant as the Rockies offense was silent all night. Manager Jim Tracy made a decision to move struggling Clint Barmes to the eight hole in the lineup. It was a move meant to take some of the pressure off of the second baseman by providing at bats in lower intensity situations.

The move backfired for Tracy in the worst way. Twice Barmes came up with the bases loaded and two outs. Both times a hit would have sparked the Rockies, giving them at least two runs and giving the team a feel of being in the game. Barmes, however, continued his struggles, hitting harmless infield pop ups to end the threat.

Barmes did not only have a bad night at the plate, he also had an error on a potential double play ball, allowing a run to score, giving the Mets a 3-0 lead.

While Barmes struggled again at the plate, he was not the only Rockie to let the team down in the shutout. All-Star Brad Hawpe went 0-for-4 with a strikeout. He left four men on base over the course of the night.

While the Rockies offense struggled all night long, they had company.

It is rare that an umpire makes a difference in who wins a game, and Tuesday was no exception. However, home plate umpire Larry Vanover did not have his best game making calls. The strike zone was inconsistant all night long. Ryan Spilborghs was rung up on a 3-2 pitch that was nowhere close to the zone. Missing low and away, Spilborghs threw his bat towards the dugout and started walking towards first. Vanover then raised his arm and declared Spilborghs out.

The worst call of the night came in the bottom of the eighth inning. With two runners on base, Josh Fogg gave up a base hit to first baseman Daniel Murphy. Dexter Fowler played the one-hopper perfectly, then made a perfect throw to the plate to nail Luis Castillo. Chris Iannetta planted the tag on Castillo a foot and a half before the plate. The only problem, Vanover called Castillo safe. That was enough for Jim Tracy to come out of the dugout and earn his first ejection as manager of the Rockies.

While Vanover was bad, he was not the reason that the heartless Rockies lost the game. The Rockies now face the tough task of having to win the next two games to earn a split of the series against the Mets. That may not sound all that difficult except for the fact that the Mets have Johan Santana on the mound Wednesday night.

Many Rockies fans complain about the Rockies lack of national attention. The fact is, the team will never be respected until it starts performing in places like New York and Los Angeles. That does not mean that they have to win every game, but rather that they need to at least play like they have the slightest bit of talent.

Both Monday and Tuesday night the team looked so pathetic that it looked as if the team had no business in the wild card race.

While the Rockies may not like playing in the Big Apple, they must do so over the next two days. If they are serious about contending for the Wild Card, they must play with the life that has put them in that position.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Colorado Rockies Falter In New York

The Colorado Rockies have had a special season. After falling on their faces out of the gate, the team took a 180 degree turn after appointing Jim Tracy as manager. They have crawled all the way back from nearly being the worst team in the league, to being the Wild Card leader in the National League.

After a convincing weekend series against the team they just leap frogged, the San Francisco Giants, the Rockies embarked on a 10 game road trip that could very well define their season.
Leading the Wild Card race by two games the Rockies are not in a position to catch their breath after racing back into contention. They have five teams that are within striking distance, so they must stay on their game if they want to play in October.

On Monday night the Rockies looked like they had everything in order to start the road trip with a win. They had their future ace Ubaldo Jimenez on the mound, facing Oliver Perez who has struggled mightily, he has an ERA that is hovering in the sevens.

While the numbers generally tell the story, Monday night was a classic example of the old saying “that’s why they play the game.” While Jimenez pitched well, he was not able to protect a 3-1 lead, giving up two hits in the sixth inning and was unable to close the door, allowing the Mets to tie the ball game.

While Jimenez has the stuff to be a superstar, he continues to struggle with the big inning. He has yet to learn to trust his stuff and bear down to get outs in big situations. While his run support has been pathetic, he is the type of pitcher who should win a game that he leads 3-1 in the sixth inning.

While Jimenez let the Mets tie the game, the Rockies offense is just as guilty for the loss. They left 10 men on base with two outs throughout the game, 18 men left on base total. At one point, failing to score Dexter Fowler who had led off the third inning with a double.

When the Rockies are on they get big hits. In fact, the Rockies lead all of baseball in sacrifice flies and two-out RBI’s, quite possibly the main reason for their return to the race. When they fail, however, the team struggles. The rotation has been good, but even with good pitching three runs is generally not going to be enough.

While Juan Rincon has been good for the Rockies recently, Jim Tracy’s move to use him in the eighth inning could easily be questioned. While Tracy has had a golden finger, making moves that seem to be perfectly timed, the recent late-game use of Rincon can be analyzed.

Tracy has moved recently moved Rincon into higher pressure situations since the loss of Manny Corpas. The decision comes on the heels of good performances from the righty. Last Tuesday night in the middle game of the Diamondbacks series, Rincon gave up a huge two run shot to Miguel Montero, sealing the win for the D-Backs.

Tracy had several other options. He could have gone to Franklin Morales, who has done well in his late inning situations, or he could have gone to Rafael Betancourt, his newly acquired set up man. While Betancourt will most likely be used in late inning situations when the Rockies are leading, it may have been a good time to go to him, even with a tie ball game.

It was clear early that Rincon did not have his stuff. He was missing mightily up and out of the zone. He gave up two quick walks to start the eighth inning, got an out on a sacrifice bunt, then intentionally walked Jeff Francouer to bring up Cory Sullivan. Morales came in to face the lefty and the Mets countered with righty, and professional grand slam hitter Fernando Tatis.

Tatis delivered on an 0-2 pitch. It was a good pitch by Morales. The ball was so low that Chris Iannetta had gone to his knees to block the ball. Tatis smacked it hard enough to clear the left field wall for his eighth career slam, slamming the door on the face of the Rockies.

While hindsight is 20/20 and it is easy to second guess a manager after the fact, it seems risky to move a pitcher of Rincon’s ilk to a late inning role. Rincon has a career ERA of 3.87, but has not had an ERA below 5.13 since 2006. He was cut by the Tigers earlier this season due to his ineffectiveness. While sometimes pitchers benefit from a change of scenery, the case may be with Rincon that he is just on the downhill side of his career. When Tracy has pitchers like Daley and Morales, it would seem more prudent to go with one of the pitchers who has proven to be more consistent in an eighth inning situation.

With the Rockies going up against the Mets, Reds and Cardinals on this road trip, it could easily be a turning point for the team one way or the other. If they want to make a positive impact, games like Monday’s are games that they must win.

Rockies Win Rubber Match Behind Aaron Cook, Gain Ground In Wild Card Race

It was a big series for the Colorado Rockies. Earlier in the week they had finished mounting an incredible comeback that lead them from the bottom of the National League West, to leading the National League Wild Card race. They took the lead away from the Giants and were facing off against the team over the weekend. It was a weekend for one of the teams to make a statement.

The Rockies made their statement.

This team is going to compete with the best that the rest of the league has to offer. They are not going to get down if they drop a game, they are going to come back the next day and battle back into a position to give themselves a chance to win.

After dropping the first game of the series on Friday night, stifled by Matt Cain, the Giants ace 1-a, the Rockies battled back to win the next two games, taking the series from San Francisco and extending their Wild Card lead to two games.

Sunday's game was a masterpiece by ace Aaron Cook. The righty went seven innings, giving up only two runs on nine hits. He did not walk a batter and struck out two. He worked out of and throwing just 77 pitches on the day. Cook increased his record to 10-3 with the win.

While the team made statements over the weekend, there were some individual statements made as well.

Jorge De La Rosa made a clear statement on Saturday night that he has gained the much needed confidence to get the job done. He showed that he has found the strike zone and that he will be a valuable member to the rotation down the stretch. He pitched brilliantly, pounding the zone and getting outs.

Troy Tulowitzki caught fire the last two games of the series, with his biggest hit coming on Saturday night. With the rain pouring down and two men on base, Tulo launched an opposite field three run home run to give the Rockies a lead that they would never relinquish on the night. He would later come up and double into the same gap.

Carlos Gonzalez made a small, yet definite statement on Sunday. The knock on the youngster is that he struggles with Major League off speed pitches. In the seventh inning with the Rockies up by a run, Gonzalez fouled off slider after slider before ending the 12 pitch at bat with a triple to the right field corner. He came in to score on Yorvit Torrealba's sacrifice fly, giving the Rockies an extra little cushion. It was a classic at bat where a hitter comes out of a funk and catches fire at the plate. If nothing else it was a huge confidence boost for Gonzalez.

Aaron Cook, who had mediocre starts his last two times out, came in firing the ball. He gave up nine hits, but was able to wiggle out of trouble only the way Aaron Cook knows how to. The difference on Sunday was that he had the confidence and swagger back that he had been missing in his last few times out. This time he was able to hold the lead that the offense got for him.

Up two games in the Wild Card standings, it is going to take individual players making their own personal statements. While the team has found its groove, many of the individual players have struggled to get into a zone. De La Rosa was a prime example of that. He was constantly thought of as the Rockies weak link in the rotation, but he has proven to be valuable, getting his own win total above .500.

Players like Carlos Gonzalez are going to need to have the confidence to get the job done when he has two strikes.

That confidence is exactly what the team needs heading into a 10 game road trip that sees them stop in New York to play the Mets for four games, three games in Cincinatti and then three games against the defending World Series champs. It will not be an easy road, but with players finding their groove it may become quite a bit easier.

The Rockies start their road trip on Monday at 5:10 pm. They will have Ubaldo Jimenez taking on Oliver Perez at Citi Field in New York. The game will be on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain and 850 KOA.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Jorge De La Rosa Budding Into A Superstar In Front Of The Rockies Eyes

The first six weeks of the season were difficult to watch.

When a player has a limited amount of talent, but goes out on the field and battles every single pitch, it is easy to cheer for them. When they fail there is always the feeling that they were doing their best. When they succeed it is a testament to their hard work and passion.

When a player has all the talent in the world, but fails to produce results, the feeling is that of frustration.

Jorge De La Rosa was the second option for the first six weeks of the 2009 season.

While flashes of greatness would come out, there was always a feeling that the lefty would lose it at some point. He was always prone to the big inning, which always would come at the most inopportune time in the game. There was never any confidence from the team that he would be able to do his job and keep his team in the ball game.

It was evident with De La Rosa on the mound that despite having good stuff, if he did not get a call from an umpire, or if he gave up a hit on a good pitch, the confidence would go away. De La Rosa would have a look on his face like he did not belong in the big leagues, as if he was defeated.

When De La Rosa’s confidence went away, so did his mechanics. It was easy to spot that he would start rushing and his weight would get out in front of his arm, causing him to elevate his pitches.

The lefty appears to have left his old self in the past.

Over his last six starts De La Rosa has picked up six wins and has been pitching deep into ball games. On Saturday he went 7-1/3 innings giving up only two runs on seven hits while striking out seven and walking none.

His pitches were masterful. He found the strike zone with his fastball and slider, which kept the Giant hitters off balance all night long. When he was removed from the game he had only thrown 97 pitches, 71 of which had been for strikes.

The difference is that De La Rosa seems confident on the mound. He has finally found a way to get comfortable and pitch with men on base. What it may come down to is that he feels that if he has one big inning that the offense will be able to pick him up and find a way to get back in the game.

The other theory is that he may have simply become comfortable pitching at the big league level. It is easy to forget that De La Rosa is just 26 years old and trying to find himself as a Major League pitcher. Either way, he is finding ways to win ball games and do so in an incredible fashion.

De La Rosa has made the past six weeks very enjoyable to watch.

After the performance by De La Rosa, the Rockies are once again in first place in the Wild Card race one game ahead of the Giants and two games in from of the Cubs.

The Rockies take on the Giants in the rubber game of the series tomorrow at 1:10 pm. The game will be broadcast on FSN Rocky Mountain and 850 KOA on the radio side.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Rockies Outpitched By Matt Cain In Tough Loss

Going against a pitcher like Matt Cain, the Rockies knew they were going to need to take advantage of every opportunity.

On Friday night they failed to do so as they were shut down by the Giants in a game that evened the surprise teams up in the Wild Card race.

Jason Hammel, on the mound for the Rockies in place of All Star Jason Marquis, pitched well enough to keep his team in the game. He went six innings, giving up three runs, a good performance from a number five starter in the rotation. That, however, would not be enough as the Rockies offense was stymied by Cain and the Giants.

With two outs in the sixth inning, just after Garrett Atkins plated the Rockies first run with a double, the Rockies had the tying run at second base with Brad Hawpe at the plate. Hawpe, one of the league’s most consistent hitters with two outs and runners in scoring position, failed to get the job done, striking out to end the inning.

In the ninth inning, Colorado once again had the tying run on base with Troy Tulowitzki at the plate. Giants closer Brian Wilson was backed into a corner. With the game on the line, Wilson got Tulo to bounce into a double play that essentially ended the Rockies threat.

It was a tough loss for the Rockies, who are battling it out with the Giants for the top spot in the National League Wild Card race.

The performance was not what the team was looking for to start the series. If they had gone out and beat Cain in the first game, it would have been a huge momentum builder going into the final game of the series.

While the loss was not one that the Rockies wanted, they cannot feel down about the game. They faced one of the best pitchers in the league in Cain, a young man who has finally received the run support that he lacked in his first two big league seasons.

While one of the Rockies early problems was getting big hits with runners in scoring position, this is not a situation where the club should be beating itself up over the results. They were facing a top shelf pitcher, who has the stuff to get any hitter out at any given time.

While results should be expected from an offense that boasts as much talent as the Rockies have, games like Friday night’s happen to the best lineups.

Knowing that Colorado had their number five starter going against an All-Star like Cain and only losing 3-1 shows that the Rockies are able to compete with the Giants pitch for pitch.

Good pitching will always beat good hitting, and that was the case on Friday as the Rox ran into a buzz saw in Cain.

It does put a certain amount of pressure on the team as they are now looking to win two straight against San Francisco, something that does not look very inviting knowing that they will be facing Jonathan Sanchez, who threw the first no hitter of 2009. Colorado is countering with Jorge De La Rosa, who has been good, but is still apt to give up the big inning.

While this series is big for both teams, fans should not jump the gun if they do poorly or if they do well. Every game counts and every win counts, but the fact remains that this is late July and as long as the Rockies stay away from getting more than four or five games back they will be just fine.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Rockies Get Aggressive Before Trading Deadline

This is generally the time of year when Rockies fans are cringing at the rumors about which team their favorite Rockies players will be dealt to.

The franchise has very rarely been in buying mode at the trade deadline. Even in 2007, when the team shocked the world by going to their first ever World Series, the club was 6-1/2 games out of the National League West race at the trading deadline. Last year, still not off the high of the miracle run to the playoffs, the Rockies were not in full sell-off mode, yet, were too far out of the race to be true buyers.

This year is different.

The Rockies made a pair of moves on Thursday to show the fans and the baseball community that they are serious about making a strong run at the playoffs.

While the team has improved greatly over the past seven weeks, launching themselves back into playoff contention, there has been one glaring weakness. The bullpen.

There have been a few bright spots, with closer Huston Street saving 24 out of his first 25 chances, and rookie Matt Daley stepping in and doing a nice job, but beyond that, the bullpen has been a flip of the coin as to how they will perform. Eighth inning duties have shifted several times, with the Rockies using anyone from Manny Corpas to Joel Peralta to Juan Rincon in the role.

Despite having a rotation fitting for the playoffs and a lineup that looks to contend, the bullpen has been the weak link.

Thursday general manager Dan O’Dowd changed that.

In the morning it was announced that Rockies top pitching prospect Jhoulys Chacin (pronounced Joe-Lease Chaseen), had been promoted from Double-A Tulsa straight to the big leagues. Chacin is a starter in the minors, but will be used out of the bullpen for now. There is speculation that Chacin could easily slip into the rotation, moving either Jason Hammel or Jorge De La Rosa to the ‘pen.

That move was thought to be made due to the news that Manny Corpas was going to have to have surgery to remove the bone spurs in his elbow and would be out until at least September.

That was not the end of the news for the Rockies on the day, however. In the afternoon word was going around that the Rockies would announce a trade before the end of the day. News came about an hour later that the Rockies had shipped Single-A pitching prospect Connor Graham to the Indians for eighth inning specialist Rafael Betancourt.

The 34-year-old righty has done a great job for the Indians. Although he missed all of June with a groin injury, he still has a 1-2 record with a 3.52 ERA. He is known for his devastating fastball, which touches the upper 90’s on the gun.

The moves have stoked the flames of excitement in the Rockies fan base. It is not often that this team is in a position to make a serious run at the postseason. These moves show that the Rockies front office is not only dedicated to winning, but dedicated to winning now.

Moving Chacin up to the big leagues right now is a bold move. Not only does it show confidence in the youngster, it shows that the Rockies are willing to start the arbitration clock on the youngster. He will now be gaining service time and may be able to qualify in three years as a “super 2,” a term given to players with more than two years of service time, but less than three but still qualify for arbitration. This means that the Rockies will have to start paying Chacin good money at least one year earlier, and risk losing him to free agency a full year before they would have if they simply left him in the minors.

The move to get Betancourt shows a true dedication to win now. Getting a true eighth inning set up man helps fill the one gap this Rockies team has been struggling with. Instead of getting the starting pitcher through six innings, then crossing the fingers until the ninth, the Rockies now have several options as a bridge to Huston Street.

In order to get Betancourt onto the 40-man roster, the Rockies are going to be forced to designate a player for assignment. The most likely choice is Rincon, who has been a decent fill-in for the squad, but has not been consistent enough to not be the odd man out.

The other option is less used Josh Fogg. Fogg has done well for the Rockies, but has received very little playing time in his long relief role.

The aggressiveness is exactly what Rockies fans have been hoping for for a long time. They have desired for the team to go out and spend some money (which they did with Betancourt, adding over $1.5 million this season), and not babying their prospects, allowing them to over-ripen in the minors.

As if seeing the Rockies on top of the Wild Card standings on July 23rd was not exciting enough, the Rockies are showing that being 1-1/2 games up in the standings does not mean that they feel the team is good enough to stand pat. Clearly they are making a point that they not only want to stay in the race, but that they want to win the race.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Todd Helton Clubs 500th Career Double; Time To Appreciate One Of The Greats

The greater Denver community has no clue what they have been fortunate enough to watch for the last 11 years.

Todd Helton roped a pitch in the third inning down the right field line. He thought he had hit it well enough to leave the park and tie up the game. The ball ended up hitting the top of the out of town scoreboard at Coors Field, holding Helton to a double. It got the Rockies within a run after scoring Seth Smith.

It was Helton’s team leading 29th double of the season, but more importantly it was the 500th of his career. It was a milestone that only 49 other players in the history of the game. It was a moment that most players would have relished. The grizzly-bearded first baseman just etched out another bullet on his Hall-of-Fame resume.

For Helton, however, the moment was more embarrassing than anything.

The 30,451 fans immediately stood to their feet and recognized Helton’s accomplishment. While most players of Helton’s ilk would get emotional, realizing that they had accomplished a huge personal achievement, Helton tried to end the ovation as quickly as possible.

Helton quickly acknowledged the crowd, clearly hoping that the cheering would stop and Brad Hawpe could take his spot in the batter’s box. The crowd, however, would not give Helton what he wanted. With the scoreboard acknowledging the accomplishment, the cheers grew louder. The field crew came out and replaced second base, saving the base for Helton’s collection. Helton, without cracking a smile, tipped his hat to the crowd and focused once again on the game.

While the fans gave Helton what he deserved, most have no idea what kind of player Helton really is.

The Rockies first baseman has statistics that put him among the best of the best. In fact, there are plenty of players whose numbers never came close to Helton’s who have a bronze statue of themselves in Cooperstown.

Yet Helton’s reputation around the league is not fitting for the kind of numbers that he has produced. For the better part of the last three seasons, even the biggest Rockies fans were calling for Helton to be traded, or simply retire. They said that his $16.6 million contract was so outrageous that he should be giving some money back.

Earlier in the year after Helton got his 2000th hit. When the analysts on ESPN’s Baseball Tonight were asked if Helton was a hall-of-famer, the response was that of disgust. They all felt that Helton is a product of Coors Field and that he is a good hitter, but not great.

In a recent article published on that ranks the top 100 players in the game, Helton barely made the list, coming in at no. 76, behind players such as Mark Reynolds, and just in front of Brandon Inge.

The national recognition for Helton on the day he made history was minimal. All of the national shows made mention of the accomplishment, but never really expounded on how big of a deal it actually is. It is something that Helton has become accustomed to in his record-setting career.

While fans may be disappointed with the lack of attention that Helton has received in his illustrious career, Helton actually probably prefers being ignored.

In a day and age where professional athletes are worshiped as gods, where the love lives of some of the greatest stars are front page headlines, and where for two off seasons a fan cannot watch SportsCenter without hearing a soap opera story about a self indulging washed up quarterback can go back and forth between whether he will ride into the sunset or come back for one more season and disappoint another fan base.

Teammates will never have to explain Helton’s actions on or off the field by saying “Helton being Helton.”

When Clint Hurdle was fired on May 29th as Rockies manager, Helton was quoted as saying that he felt a personal responsibility for his manager of seven years losing his job. At that point Helton was hitting .328 and was on pace for over 20 home runs and 100 RBI’s.

There is not a selfish bone in Helton’s body. He is not concerned about anything but winning. He works harder than anyone in the game and has expectations that will not allow himself to settle for second best. Those qualities all combine to create Helton’s greatest quality. Loyalty.

When Helton was playing like a Hall-of-Famer, his numbers could not have been more opposite of his teammates. Three times in the early part of the decade, Helton was on teams that lost 90 or more games. In those seasons, Helton hit no less than .329.

After the failed signings of Mike Hampton and Denny Neagle the Rockies front office decided to take a whole new approach at how they ran the club. Instead of going for high priced free agents, the team was going to switch gears and build from within. The process would be painful and long.

At that point, Helton could easily have asked for a trade. He was one of the premier left handed power hitters in the league who was also a Gold Glove first baseman. Instead, Helton, who had fallen in love with Colorado, told the front office that he was on board for the process.

What that meant for the slugger is that he would have to endure being the only good hitter in the lineup for several years as the future stars learned the game in places like Asheville, North Carolina and Visalia, California. Instead of complaining, Helton continued to plug away at his game, getting better despite being in a lineup with names like Jose Hernandez, Jeromy Burnitz, and Chris Stynes as the big-name hitters surrounding him.

Matt Holliday would often talk about his days in the farm system. It never failed that when the future slugger was tired of long bus rides and struggling to hit in the minors, he would get a call from Helton, encouraging him to keep working hard because someday they would have a good squad in the big leagues.

While Helton was patient with the team, the fans were not. Attendance dwindled at a once robust Coors Field and the Denver faithful continued their love affair with the Broncos. While they did not miss many well-played baseball games, what they did miss was watching Helton in the middle of his assault on the record books.

Despite Helton’s loyalty, the franchise did not return the favor. Before the 2007 season, the Rockies were looking to unload salary and saw an opportunity to put $16.6 million back in their pockets when the Boston Red Sox came calling. Helton, being the ultimate team player, said he would not reject a trade in the best interest of the squad. After nearly a week of back and forth, Helton told the team he had had enough and would not accept a trade.

The majority of fans did not come back to the team until the famous 2007 run that put the Rockies in the World Series. Helton at that point was 34 years old and watching his power slip away from him due to a deteriorating back.

In the failed attempt to defend the NL crown in 2008, Helton finally succumbed to the pain in his back that was causing numbness in his legs. It was not before fans were calling him a has-been, and even going to the point of saying that Helton was using performance enhancing drugs during his prime.

It is a shame because while Helton was doing everything that he could to be a winner, fans had quit paying attention.

Hopefully with Helton’s play in ‘09, plus the fact that the team is in contention, will open up both the national media’s eyes, as well as fans in Denver, to the type of player that Helton is.

The fact is, fans should appreciate a player like Helton. There are very few star athletes like him anymore. He is dedicated to his team, his teammates and his fans. He acts with class in every situation and never feels that he is better than anyone else. More players should follow his example.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Colorado Rockies Lose Lead, Game to Diamondbacks; Bullpen Struggling

The Rockies celebrated the 4th of July in a quiet clubhouse as fireworks boomed over Coors Field. They had just blown a 4-0 lead to the lowly Diamondbacks with ace Aaron Cook on the mound.

17 days Fox Sports Rocky Mountain may as well have shown a replay of the Independence Day game. With a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning, Dexter Fowler misplayed a ball that was hit on the screws. It looked as if the ball would drop right into a coasting Fowler’s glove for the second out of the inning, but instead the ball sailed over Fowler’s head, allowing two runs to score on what ended up as a triple for Justin Upton.

The hit turned the game from a comfortable 4-1 lead with Cook sailing, to a 4-3 nail biter. The Rockies were not prepared to battle it out.

On a night where Cook pitched well, the bullpen failed to hold up their end of the bargain.

Franklin Morales, who has been perfect since his call up in his new role out of the bullpen, failed to get his job done. He came in for Cook after a one out single given up by the redhead, ending his night. Morales walked two and gave up a base hit. He escaped without giving up a run of his own, but allowed the inherited runner from Cook to score, tying the game.

After the hit, Morales was lifted for Juan Rincon, who pitched brilliantly to Upton, getting a strikeout to end the threat.

Rincon went back out for the eighth inning, where he proceeded to give up a two-run home run to Miguel Montero, what ended up being the difference in the 6-5 loss.

The loss is difficult to swallow, as the Diamondbacks have proven once again to be the Rockies kryptonite. When Arizona plays the Rockies they turn into the team that found itself in the National League Championship Series in 2007.

The Rockies remain in the Wild Card lead in the National League due to the Giants loss in Atlanta, but the loss stings because the Rockies could have gained another game on their division rivals. Instead they sit just a half game up on San Francisco and are forced to win on Wednesday in order to take the series from the Diamondbacks.

The loss underscores the Rockies major issues this season. The offense is well rounded, and very deep. The rotation has been stable and kept the team in the game. Huston Street has been almost flawless in the closer’s role. What that leaves is the middle relief for the Rockies.

In June Joel Peralta seemed to plug the hole, getting big outs in close games in St. Louis and Milwaukee. His split-finger fastball was nearly unhittable. He faltered, however, and was optioned back to Colorado Springs before Tuesday’s game.

Morales has been masterful in his new role, but he struggled to find the strike zone on Wednesday. After not getting a couple of close calls at the plate, the lefties mechanics broke down and he failed to get the job done.

Juan Rincon has been a decent fill in for the Rockies, but the reality is, his best days are behind him. He was released earlier in the season by the Tigers and is hardly a dependable option is a tight game.

Jim Tracy’s post game comments also brought question to the Rockies shaky bullpen. He mentioned that Manny Corpas, who returned to action over the weekend, felt pain in his throwing elbow after dealing with a stressful inning on Monday.

The thought has crossed every Rockies fans mind, how good would this team be with a healthy Taylor Buchholz?

The fact is, this team is without Buchholz and needs help in the worst way. Dan O’Dowd has made it very clear that he is looking for help from all around the league. The problem is that with just 10 days before the trading deadline, 22 out of 30 teams still feel as if they have at least an outside shot at being a playoff contender, limiting the number of available arms.

The other factor that makes it difficult for the Rockies to get bullpen help is that every other team in the league is looking for bullpen help. The problem with bullpen pitchers is that they are in the bullpen for a reason. Pitchers do not dream of being a sixth or seventh inning guy. If they dream of being a reliever, it is being a closer and working the ninth inning.

Middle relievers are generally failed starters who could do a little bit of good work, but did not have the stuff to be dominate.

What that means for the Rockies is that they might have to figure out a way to get the job done with the talent that they currently have. One option in the minor leagues is recently re-acquired righty Matt Herges. Herges was released by the Cleveland Indians, but has an ERA in the upper threes and did a good job for the Tribe. His work in the 2007 run for the Rockies is tough to forget.

Other than Herges, the experienced depth is not available in the farm system or via trade. It may just mean that the Rockies offense needs to continue to crush the ball and keep the games out of reach.

Rockies Overtake Giants For Wild Card Lead

If the season ended today, the Rockies would be in the playoffs.

After a 10-6 victory over the Diamondbacks, which was not as close as the score shows, and a Giants loss in Atlanta, the home town team is now leading the Wild Card race in the National League.

While celebrating a Wild Card lead in late July is not something that is generally advised, this one has special meaning for the Rockies. On June 3rd these same Rockies were 14 games out of first place in the National League West and 12 games under .500. They had just fired their manager and were for all intents and purposes out of the playoff discussion.

At Coors Field and on talk radio all anyone said about the Rockies was how their cheapskate owners dropped the ball and should never have traded Matt Holliday. They said that as long as the Monforts were the owners of the Rockies there would never be winning baseball in Colorado.

It is amazing what can happen in seven weeks.

After dropping three straight in Houston, the Rockies went on to win their next 11 games in a row, and then six more after losing just one. It was a run that conjured up memories of the miracle run to the World Series just two seasons ago.

While the core of the team from that run still exists for the most part, there is a distinct difference with this year’s club.

They are much better.

The 2007 club required great performances by two mid-season call-ups in Ubaldo Jimenez and Franklin Morales. Those two had to be nearly perfect in order for the ‘07 squad to make the run that they did. While both of those players are extremely talented, the fact is, two rookies, fresh up from the minor leagues, both under 24 years old, rarely have the level of success that those two had simultaneously.

When Aaron Cook got hurt the Rockies turned to Elmer Dessens. Yes, Elmer Dessens was brought in to shore up the rotation. Along with Dessens, Dan O’Dowd made a trade to bring in Ramon Ortiz, a pitcher who had had success in the big leagues, but was three years removed from it.

The ‘09 team is a completely different story.

When it became clear that Jeff Francis was probably going to be shelved for the season, O’Dowd made a shrewd deal with the Cubs. He knew that Jason Marquis was a good pitcher but had been at odds with the club for two seasons. He wisely dealt embattled reliever Luis Vizcaino straight across for Marquis, a trade that will probably go down as the most lobsided deal of the ‘09 season.

While Vizcaino made four appearances with the Cubs before being releases, all Marquis has done is go to the All-Star game representing the Rockies and win 12 games, the most in the Majors this season.

In addition to Marquis, the Rockies have Jimenez, who has matured greatly from his rookie campaign, learning to be a pitcher instead of a thrower, and Jorge De La Rosa, a lefty who throws in the mid-90’s with a nasty slider and change up. De La Rosa was the weak link for the Rockies early on, but has found his composure since the middle of June. Previously he had been prone to the big inning, but has shown poise in his last six starts. After seven innings of one-run baseball against the Diamondbacks on Monday, De La Rosa evened his record at 7-7. Going into the season the Rockies were hoping to get 10 wins out of the lefty.

While there are still issues with the bullpen, Monday’s game should not be fingered as evidence of bullpen struggles. Yes, both Joel Peralta and Manny Corpas struggled and let the Diamondbacks crawl back into the game with five runs in the eighth and ninth innings, but it is easy to forget the score when they came in.

When Peralta came in for the eighth inning the Rockies held a 10-1 lead. His job at that point was to throw strikes and challenge hitters. There was no being cute or trying to nibble at the corners of the plate, he simply was seeing what the Diamondbacks would do with the fastball.

Same goes for Corpas, whose biggest hit was a two-run bomb off the bat of Stephen Drew. With three outs to go and a seven run lead there is no reason for a reliever to be finesse on the mound. His job was to throw fastballs for strikes. The lesson learned for Corpas is to keep the ball down, instead of belt high, where a hitter will make a pitcher pay in the worst way at the big league level.

With two games left in the series, the Rockies are making it hard not to look forward to this weekend’s series at home against the Giants. The Wild Card lead could easily trade hands five times over the next five games.

While it is easy to look forward to Friday night, the Rockies must not overlook the Diamondbacks, who took two out of three from them just two weeks ago. Game two of the three game series is Tuesday night starting at 6:40. Max Scherzer is on the mound for the Diamondbacks against Aaron Cook for the Rockies.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tough Night Spoils Rockies Chance at Wild Card Lead

The Rockies knew that going into tonight they could attain something that no one would have believed seven weeks ago. After Friday night's victory the team was just a half game behind the Giants in the National League Wild Card race. With the Giants loss on Saturday, the Rockies had an opportunity to take the lead.

It was not meant to be as the Rockies offense never quite made it to Petco Park in San Diego.

After a Brad Hawpe RBI double in the first inning, the Rockies offense was done for the night. In fact, they only got three more hits in the remaining eight innings. They left 13 men on base throughout the night in the 3-1 loss.

A couple of times the offense had threats. In the fifth inning with runners at first and second and no one out Hawpe hit the ball sharply to Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez who threw to second to begin a double play.

The Rockies still had a runner at second base for Troy Tulowitzki who hit a ball on the screws, but was swallowed up by the expansive center field that is Petco Park. Tony Gwynn Jr. caught the ball on the warning track in deep right-center field to end the inning.

On the mound Jason Hammel did a nice job without having his best stuff. He loaded the bases in the first inning and walked in a run before getting out of the jam. He threw 37 pitches in the first inning alone.

After a tough opening frame, Hammel settled down for the most part, working with a little bit of traffic, but coming out untouched. In all he pitched 5-2/3 innings, giving up only the one run on five hits and three walks. He struck out seven, but hit three batters.

Hammel most likely would have finished the sixth inning, but seemed distracted after a scary moment in which he drilled Edgar Gonzalez in the head with a fastball. Gonzalez immediately went down, clutching his head in pain. He was carted off the field, but luckily all signs point to him being ok. Hammel walked the next hitter and manager Jim Tracy elected to remove Hammel from the game.

With the score knotted at 1-1, reliever Joel Peralta suffered a slight setback. During the Rockies run back into contention, Peralta has had only one tough outing. Saturday night makes that number go to two.

Leading off the seventh inning, Chase Headley, a Colorado high school product, drilled a solo home run to make the score 2-1. Peralta then gave up two more hits and another run to seal the Rockies fate.

It was a tough loss for the Rockies considering the fact that they had a chance to move ahead of the Giants and stay within seven games of the Dodgers. However, all things considered, it was the type of game that happens to every team in Major League Baseball throughout the course of a season.

The offense is not going to be able to go out and score 7-10 runs every single night. Padres pitcher Kevin Correia has been showing signs of becoming a good pitcher as of late. In his second to last outing he shut down the Dodgers for seven innings. At one point he had a scoreless inning streak that stretched into 20 straight innings.

Baseball is not a game where the better team is always going to win. Often times a dominant pitcher can go out and beat even the best of lineups.

Jason Hammel did a good job of keeping the Rockies in the game, but he was just a little bit worse than Correia.

Games like Saturday night's become frustrating when a team is not winning and had a good enough outing from a starting pitcher to win that night.

Instead for these Rockies they know that while they missed a chance at overtaking the Giants, they have already taken the first two games of the series with the Padres and have a chance to take three out of four before heading home to try and get some revenge on the Diamondbacks.

The Rockies are a good baseball team and they know it. Games like Saturday will happen. The key to success is thinking long term while playing one game at a time. That means that they need to try and win every single game, take advantage of every single opportunity within a game to get a win, but to keep their heads up when a night like Saturday happens.

The Rockies go for the series victory on Sunday with their All-Star Jason Marquis on the hill. Game time is 2:05 Mountain Time.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Rockies Ubaldo Jimenez Still Has To Turn The Corner

In the offseason the Rockies front office was wise enough to lock down budding young pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to a long-term deal. They locked him up for four years with two additional years as option years for the team. The deal is worth $10 million for Jimenez.

The 25 year-old throws harder than any pitcher in the league. His fastball routinely hits 98 miles per hour, and has movement, a lethal combination for any hitter. The men with the bats cannot just sit on the fastball however, as Jimenez throws a devastating curveball to go along with a change up that drops off the table.

On paper Jimenez has as much talent as any pitcher in the league. At his age he should be thought of as the next great right hander. Yet, Jimenez is still not a dominant pitcher.

Despite winning his seventh game of the season on Friday night, Jimenez was unable to shut down the Padres. He pitched seven innings, giving up only three runs while striking out 10 and walking four. The line looks good for Jimenez, it qualifies as a quality start and goes in the win column. However, it was not as pretty as the Rockies have been hoping for at this point in Jimenez’s career.

In the top of the fifth inning, with the Rockies winning 3-1 and two men aboard, Ian Stewart ripped a two-run double off the right field wall, making the score 5-1. For all intents and purposes, the game should have been over.

After being given a four run lead in the fifth inning a dominant starter who throws as hard as Jimenez should shut the opponent down. Instead Jimenez went back out on the mound and gave up two runs to let the Padres back into the game. The first run came because Jimenez gave up a two out walk before Everth Cabrera ripped a triple into the right-center gap.

A week and a half ago at home against Arizona Jimenez brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning. His offense had given him a 3-0 lead against Dan Haren, the National League ERA leader. With no-hit stuff, Jimenez looked like he would easily help the Rockies to a series win. Instead, Jimenez walked two batters with two outs in the sixth, then gave up a game-tying three run home run to Mark Reynolds.

Jimenez has more talent than anyone could ever dream of having. For three years now he has lived with the label of “will be a great pitcher.” As a number two pitcher in the Rockies rotation and with his level of talent, Jimenez should have already shed the “will be” part of his label.

The problem for the 6′4″ righty is that he tries to get too cute much of the time. Instead of trusting his stuff and challenging hitters at the plate he tries to nibble on the corners with his offspeed pitch.

A game like Friday night’s should have been automatic for Jimenez. He had a four run lead in the fifth inning and had been pitching well. Instead of throwing a steady diet of hard fastballs, challenging hitters to hit solo home runs, Jimenez started to miss the strike zone and walk hitters. When he starts to walk hitters, he is forced to throw hitters-pitches to the batter, which gets him in trouble.

There is little doubt that Jimenez will eventually become a complete pitcher. He is a smart young man who is still learning to be a pitcher instead of just being a thrower. The fact that Jimenez can not have his best stuff, and still go out and throw seven innings and give up only three runs, then the Rockies have something good on their hands.

When Jimenez does turn the corner, Rockies opponents will be looking at the schedule a week in advance to see if they will have to face the righty.

Until then, Jimenez will have to continue to grow and mature as a pitcher in the big leagues. His next step is figuring out how to walk less hitters and believe in his stuff.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rockies Win First Game Of Second Half Behind Aaron Cook's Gutsy Performance

The Colorado Rockies went into the All Star break on the high of winning a game in which they were down by four runs entering the seventh inning and winning on a walk-off hit by Brad Hawpe.

After a great run starting at the beginning of June and lasting into July the fear was that the Rockies would have a chance to take a breath at the break and lose the momentum that they had gained over the past month and a half.

Aaron Cook and the offense proved that fans have nothing to worry about on Thursday night in San Diego. Cook definitely did not have his best stuff, including a flat sinker, but it was a gutsy performance that got him through six innings, giving up only one run. He dealt with traffic in every inning, giving up eight hits and walking four while striking out eight.

Cook did everything that the Rockies could hope for, not having good stuff but finding ways to get outs. In the past two years Cook has learned how to get a strikeout when necessary.

While Cook did not have his best stuff, it looked like the Rockies bats were rested and ready after the break. In Petco Park, one of the best pitchers parks in the league, the Rockies offense scored 10 runs. It was an extremely steady attack as they scored no more than three runs in any one inning, but only failed to score in three innings.

It was a night that the Rockies will need several more of in order to stay in contention. They may not need to score 10 runs per night, but the fact that almost every member of the lineup contributed to the scoring.

One of the big hits of the night came with two outs in the fourth inning and Dexter Fowler at the plate with two men on. Fowler was down in the count 1-2, but came through on a pitch that he has been known to swing through, the inside off speed pitch. This time Fowler roped it through the hole at second base, scoring both runners and starting the route.

Clint Barmes, who has been a huge reason for the Rockies getting back into contention, came through in the sixth inning, smashing a three run home run to left field. Barmes went 1-for-5 on the night, but the home run was on a breaking pitch, something that he has struggled with his entire career.

Seth Smith, the team leader in on-base percentage, came through once again in a huge way. Getting a start in left field as Carlos Gonzalez gave All-Star Brad Hawpe a much deserved day off, Smith went 2-for-4 with a no doubt home run into the seats in right field in the eighth inning. On the night Smith raised his average to .303. He is quickly making the franchise wonder if he should be starting more often.

Just because some of the lesser known names contributed does not mean that the household name did not pull through.

Veteran Todd Helton went 4-for-5 with two doubles, giving him 498 doubles in his career. Three days off for the first baseman may have been just what Helton’s back needed to stay strong for the rest of the season. A mid-July night like Thursday’s for Helton makes it laughable that the Rockies were only envisioning Helton playing in only 110 games.

With the Giants idle and a Dodgers loss, the Rockies gain a half game in the Wild Card race and a full game in the National League West race. They now stand 1-1/2 games behind the Giants and eight games out in the West.

Game two of the four game series is Friday night at Petco starting at 8:05. Ubaldo Jimenez looks to get back to his winning ways after losing his last four starts.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Do The Rockies Have What It Takes To Stay In The Race?

Entering the 2009 season the average Rockies fan felt that the team had no chance to compete and was destined for yet another mediocre finish in the National League West.

The offseason was busy with the club unloading two of the most decorated players in club history. First, slugger Matt Holliday was shipped off to Oakland for what critics complained was far too little. They received a former Rookie of the Year in Huston Street who had struggled in '08, being demoted from his closers role. In addition to Street they got Carlos Gonzalez, who had the famous "five-tool player" tag, but had yet to show he could hit in the big leagues. The third player the Rockies recieved was Greg Smith, a starting pitcher who lost in double digits in '08.

In addition to trading Holliday the Rockies also lost Brian Fuentes, a three-time All-Star who holds the club record for saves. Fuentes agreed to a deal with the Angels which was a mere $1.5 million more than what the Rockies were willing to pay. It seemed as if the team was intent on struggling and not spending a dime on anyone with relevant Major League success.

While many Rockies fans were incredibly disappointed and felt betrayed, the truth was, Dan O'Dowd and the front office knew exactly what they were doing.

The Rockies knew that they had no chance of signing Holliday. He was intent on getting top-dollar in free agency after the '09 campaign, so they had to get something for him. In that trade received Street, who had been an incredible closer for the A's. Street struggled with a hamstring injury which may have been the reason for his struggles.

Also, the team knew that they had a plethora of outfielders ready to get their chance. Ryan Spilborghs had been an incredible platoon outfielder for the squad in the last two seasons, and Seth Smith had shown late inning potential and the ability to play everyday.

Another move in the offseason was the acquisition of starting pitcher Jason Marquis. Marquis was viewed around the league as an "innings-eater," a title that ignores the fact that over the past five seasons he had won no less than 11 games.

As the Rockies opened the '09 campaign they struggled greatly. The majority of their April schedule was on the road and the starting pitchers still seemed to be in spring training mode. Both Aaron Cook and Ubaldo Jimenez struggled out of the gate and could not find their sinkers.

It was clear that the talent was there but the confidence was missing. When the team got down by a couple of runs the look on the faces in the Rockies dugout was that of a younger brother who knew he stood no chance against his older sibling. There was no fight to be found.

Then the big pink elephant in the room was removed. Clint Hurdle was fired on May 29th after starting the season 20-32.

The rest of the story is history as the switch was flipped and the Rockies crawled within 1/2 a game of the Wild Card lead in the National League.

At the break the Rockies sit at 47-41, nine games behind the Dodgers in the National League West, but more importantly two games behind the Giants and in second place in the Wild Card race.

While June was fun for any Rockies fan, the question is whether or not the team has what it takes to stay in the race.

Who are the real Rockies? The team that won 22 games through the first two months of the season, or the team that rattled off 11 straight wins and 16 out of 17?

The fact is, anyone watching this team knows that the offense is as good as any team in the National League. They have depth, they have power and they have speed. The scariest part for the Rockies opposition is that the offense has yet to hit it's stride.

Chris Iannetta, Ian Stewart and Troy Tulowitzki have all struggled at times. Tulowitzki has turned the corner of late, but Iannetta and Stewart's batting averages will both rise.

Garrett Atkins, the Rockies RBI leader a season ago has been the biggest disappointment for the club. For much of the first half his batting average was below .200 and he looked both lost and disinterested at the plate. Of late Atkins has found his stroke and been productive off of the bench.

Dexter Fowler is getting a feel for the big leagues. He is a player who has never seen a pitch in Triple-A. He has stolen 20 bases, but has yet to learn how to steal bases. He is playing strictly on talent alone. The good news for the Rockies is that he is a smart young man who will figure out how to maximize his talent.

Even if the lineup comes together and hits on all cylinders, the Rockies greatest weakness is their middle relief. Manny Corpas struggled in the eighth inning role and was just beginning to look strong before he was sidelined with bone spurs in his elbow.

Matt Daley was productive early, but has given up runs in four of his last seven outings. Alan Embree was a trusted veteran and never was able to find success until the last week before the break, which was the end of his season after he was struck in the leg by a Martin Prado liner on Friday night, ending his season.

The Rockies have turned to Franklin Morales, a starter, to fill the lefty specialist role. It seems as if he fits well based on the fact that he throws hard from the left side and has a devastating breaking ball. He has been good in his first three outings in the role, but his young career has been marked with mental weakness, resulting in big innings.

The Rockies have made it known that they are searching for middle relief help. The only problem is that at the All-Star break, 22 teams out of 30 still believe that they are in the race and are not in a position to trade a reliever of value.

In addition, middle relievers are in that role for a reason. They are not dominant enough to be a closer and they are generally failed starters. Therefore, trading a top-line prospect for someone whose success is a flip of the coin does not sound too appealing.

So do the Rockies have what it takes to stay in the race, or even make a run at the Dodgers? Only time will tell, but for many Rockies fans, just the fact that they are within striking distance at the All-Star break is a major victory for the team.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Hawpe Delivers Walk-Off Double; Seth Smith Proving His Value

It was an important game for the Rockies. They had fallen short the two previous nights and were looking at going into the All-Star break three games behind in the National League Wild Card race.
Starter Jason Hammel lasted just three innings, giving up five runs on nine hits. He simply did not have it.

The past two days have seen the Rockies get down by a few runs and the offense struggle to keep the team in the game. It looked as if the Rockies from April and May had returned. The batters seemed to be pressing when they had runners in scoring position and they found new ways to keep runs from coming across the plate.

Not on Sunday, as the Rockies continued to battle back. Despite the poor outing by Hammel, and the two-run home run given up by Jorge De La Rosa, who relieved Hammel, there was a constant feeling that the Rockies were going to find a way to get back in the game.

Hawpe got them on the board in the second inning with a solo home run, his 14th of the season. Then Tulowitzki got the Rockies within two runs with a solo blast of his own in the fourth. It was Tulowitzki’s 16th home run on the season. In the seventh Seth Smith hit his seventh home run of the season, a two-run blast that got the Rockies within one run. Smith’s home run gave the Rockies the confidence to win the game.

In the eighth inning Ryan Spilborghs pinch hit in the pitchers spot and laced what would have been the game winning double, but Nate McClouth played the ball perfectly off the wall and was able to throw out the slow-footed Chris Iannetta at the plate. It was good enough, however, to tie the game up.

The play of Seth Smith is going to make it difficult to continue running struggling prospect Carlos Gonzalez out to left field eveyday. With a 2-for-5 day, Smith upped his batting average to .298. He is seeing the ball well and continues to get hits in the clutch. As a pinch hitter, Smith has nine hits in 2009.

While he has been phenomenal as a pinch hitter and is valuable off of the bench late in games, the question must be asked if his abilities are being wasted on the bench while Gonzalez struggles.

Gonzalez has floundered in the first five weeks of his Rockies career. He is hitting just .202 and looks lost at the plate. While struggling at the plate is nothing new to a young player, Gonzalez’s struggles go beyond just looking lost.

The scouting report on Gonzalez when he was in Oakland is that he could never adjust to the offspeed pitch. He was a great fastball hitter, but hitting a Major League curveball or slider was difficult for him. Difficult enough that the A’s felt he may never find his swing at the big league level.

Gonzalez’s athleticism cannot be doubted. It is clear why he has been dubbed a potential five-tool player. He has a phenomenal arm in the outfield, has the speed to steal bases, and when he hits the ball, he hits it hard. However, getting on base is a problem.

It could be argued that the Rockies have done fine with him in left field,and that in order for him to reach his potential the club needs to keep the faith in him and continue letting him mature on the job. The problem with that thought is that the Rockies are in the race. If they were in the same boat as the Diamondbacks or Padres it may be a different scenario, but if there is a chance to win, the Rockies should be playing the talent that is ready to help them win.

Smith is hitting .96 points higher than Gonzalez. He is more of a power threat, and while his defense may not be as sharp, his bat in the lineup near the end of a close game more than makes up for the lack of speed in left field.

On a day like Sunday the credit will go to Brad Hawpe, and it very well should, but the Rockies would never have been in that situation had Seth Smith not had the day that he did. His seventh inning home run could not have been more timely, allowing the Rockies to have two innings to score one more run. Without his hit in the ninth, Hawpe has no one on the bases to drive in.

Players like Smith are what make the Rockies a good team. Instead of having to depend on superstars day in and day out, Colorado can put faith in someone who can be a role player and do his job when he is asked to.

With more of Seth Smith in the lineup, the Rockies could find themselves in the race not just at the All-Star break, but down the stretch run as well.

Clint Barmes Key To Rockies Success

When someone thinks of the offensive catalysts for the 2009 Colorado Rockies the names that immediately come to mind are Brad Hawpe and Todd Helton.

While those two hitters are clearly the meat and potatoes of the Rockies offense, leading the team in nearly every single offensive category, the team lives and dies by the play of one hitter in particular, and it is not Helton or Hawpe.

As Clint Barmes goes, so go the Rockies.

Barmes started swinging a hot bat right away when Jim Tracy moved him to the two-hole in the lineup. He led all of the league in hits in the month of June, getting on base often for the big bats behind him.

Barmes, admittedly a poor off speed pitch hitter, thrived in the two-hole because he sees more fastballs there. Pitchers do not have as much wiggle room with him because Helton and Hawpe are coming up right behind him. This allows Barmes to fire at more pitches, knowing that the heat is coming and it is most likely going to be in the strike zone. It is very conducive to Barmes' game.

Barmes is the kind of player who has to work his tail off just to play in the big leagues. He is aggressive at the plate and in the field. If Barmes were looking for walks when he went to the plate, he would never have made it. Sometimes a person's greatest strength also is their greatest weakness.

This is the case with Barmes, who, because of his aggressiveness, often finds himself down in the count 0-2 and walks less than anyone else on the team. That is fine, as long as Barmes is hitting.
When Barmes is hitting well, the offense runs like a well-oiled machine. Even if the starting pitcher has given up a few runs, the feeling since June has been that the guys swinging the bats will find a way to get back in the game, and they have been successful at doing that. Barmes would get on base and Helton or Hawpe would find a way to drive him in.

However, if Barmes is not able to reach base, Helton and Hawpe do not see the good pitches that they would with a runner on base, resulting in the offense coming to a sputtering halt and the negative thoughts of losing before the game is over creeping back into player's heads.

Saturday night is a good example. Barmes finished the night 0-for-5 with two strikeouts. The first strikeout came in the third inning, immediately following Dexter Fowler's one out triple. With the infield back, the Braves were conceding the run, leading the game 2-0. Essentially all Barmes had to do was get the ball in play and he would find his name in the boxscore with an RBI next to it.

Instead, Barmes did the worst thing possible and struck out, leaving Fowler on third base with two outs.

In the ninth inning, with Seth Smith on first base representing the tying run, Barmes swung at three pitches outside of the strike zone, ending the game with the Rockies losing 4-3.

While Barmes struggled at the plate, he is not the only Rockies who is having their issues. On the night the club went 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position, a stat that they dominated during the June run. Not getting clutch hits is almost always the reason for a one-run loss.

The Rockies try to salvage a split of the four game series on Sunday, the final game before the All-Star break. Jason Hammel will be on the mound for the Rockies. The game begins at 1:10 and will be broadcast on FSN Rocky Mountain and 850 KOA.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Rockies Lose A Veteran Pitcher And Clubhouse Leader

The Colorado Rockies lost more than a game on Friday night in Denver, they also lost one of their veteran clubhouse leaders.

The only thing louder than the thunder echoing throughout the ballpark was the deafening thud of the baseball hitting Alan Embree’s leg in the seventh inning.

The ball was hit so hard off of Atlanta’s Martin Prado’s bat that Embree had no chance to react. The ball hit him just above the ankle.

Embree attempted to get up and chase the ball, but immediately fell back to the ground. When the dust had settled, Keith Dugger, the Rockies trainer, rushed to the mound along with the entire Rockies infield and Jim Tracy.

The best way to describe the injury was the body language of shortstop Troy Tulowitzki. After seeing the damage, Tulowitzki walked away from the mound, pacing near third base. He could be seen biting the top of his glove, clearly in disgused over the injury.

The Rockies training staff carted Embree off the field, and while the sound of the ball off the leg told the story, the gritty Embree looked as if he would be ready to do wind sprints before Saturday’s game.

The diagnosis came back ugly, a broken leg that will require surgery to potentially add a rod into his leg on Saturday. Embree is done for the year.

While Embree has been up and down so far in 2009 on the field, he has been anything but that in the clubhouse.

The 39-year-old veteran provided a calming force in the clubhouse. He is extremely liked and knows that baseball is a game where if a player does not have the ability to forget about yesterday and worry about tomorrow than they will never make it.

For Embree, the fact is he may have thrown his last pitch in the big leagues. He is 39th on the all-time list for appearances by a pitcher and proved to be a valuable asset to every single team that he played with. He won the World Series with Boston in 2004.

The Rockies, already in desperate need for bullpen help, now have another need to fill. The short-term solution is to and Embree’s roll over to Randy Flores, who was decent early, but struggled as of late.

The injury may force lefty Franklin Morales into a few late inning situations.

The day started poor early with Ubaldo Jimenez giving up a two-out, two run double in the first inning, and the offense going 1-2-3 against the Derek Lowe special sinker ball in the first.
The Rockies have now lost the last four starts by Jimenez, something that they will most certainly have to change if they have any hope of postseason play.

The offense tried to rally in the eighth, but Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe both struck out to leave the runners in scoring position.

It may have simply just been one of those nights for the Rockies. The club tries to right there wrongs on Saturday night. Game time is 6:10 PM on FOX Sports Rocky Mountain, and 850 KOA on the radio side.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Atkins Comes Through For The Rockies

In baseball there is a saying that every team wins 60 games and every team loses 60 games, it is a matter of what a team does with the other 42 that determines if they are contenders or basement dwellers.

If Thursday night was one of those 42 games for the Rockies, it is a good sign.

Twice the Rockies battled back from two-run defects and overcame a sluggish start from ace Aaron Cook.

Cook once again battled control issues, not being able to use his sinker consistently. He left the ball up on several occasions and continued to pay the price for it. In 5-2/3 innings, Cook gave up five earned runs on nine hits, walking three and striking out three. He was able to pitch out of a couple of jams, but was far from dominant in the game. He did get 10 ground ball outs to four flyball outs, but when the Braves hit him, the ball seemed to find the gaps.

Despite the shaky outing, the Rockies offense gave the feeling that they were in the game. Down 2-0 in the second inning, third baseman Ian Stewart drilled a pitch 404 feet over the right-center wall, tying the game and giving Stewart his 16th home run of the season.

If Thursday’s game showed anything, it was how potent the Colorado lineup can be. Todd Helton and Brad Hawpe, the clear offensive leaders on the team, combined to go 1-for-7 with a walk and a strike out. If that would have been the case two months ago, this game would have gone down in the loss category for the Rockies. This time, however, the rest of the offense picked up the pieces.

Stewart hit the home run in his first at-bat, then proceeded to walk in each of his next three at-bats, scoring three times on the night.

Catcher Chris Iannetta went 2-for-3 with a big two run triple in the fourth inning to tie the game up at that point.

Clint Barmes, who had been slumping slightly recently after swinging the hottest bat on the club following his move to the 2-hole in the lineup, squarely hit two doubles. The second of which was a double that seems to be so much of who Barmes is that he should consider copyrighting it. The pitch was slightly outside, but Barmes turned on it and roped it past the third baseman and into the corner.

The biggest hit of the night, however, came in the bottom of the eighth inning when Garrett Atkins was asked to pinch hit with two men on and two outs. Stewart had walked, and then Iannetta was hit on the foot by a breaking ball, putting men on first and second base with the score knotted up at five. After Carlos Gonzalez struck out, Garrett Atkins was asked to pinch hit in the pitchers spot. Atkins has been struggling emensly all of 2009.

On Thursday however, he looked confident at the plate and ripped a double down the left field line, scoring two runs and giving the Rockies a 7-5 lead. That was enough for closer Huston Street, who actually gave up a run in the ninth, but still nailed down his 22nd save in 23 chances.

The win shows the depth that this Rockies team is starting to realize that they have. On a night when Helton and Hawpe struggled at the plate, the Rockies were still able to put up seven runs. Dexter Fowler is showing signs of maturity, and Iannetta and Stewart are starting to hit for average as well.

That, coupled with the fact that Colorado has Seth Smith, Ryan Spilborghs and Atkins coming off the bench means that the Rockies have more depth than any other team in the National League.

While Atkins and Spilborghs names have surfaced in the trade rumors, the Rockies really are not in desperate need of any additional help. Sure, the bullpen struggles to get to Street, but the reality is, pitchers are middle relievers for a reason. They are not good enough to start and they are not good enough to close, so they enjoy life out of the bullpen.

What that means is that every team is in the market for middle relievers, and anyone who is willing to sell one is going to ask for a haul in return for someone who is not a completely dominant force on the mound.

The Rockies take on the Braves again on Friday with Ubaldo Jimenez going against sinkerballer Derek Lowe. The game is at 7:10 and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Rocky Mountain and 850 KOA on the radio side.